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Friday, July 2, 2010

NUTMEG
Nutmeg, or Myristicin fragrans to give it its botanical name, is the seed kernel of a fruit that resembles an apricot. It has a thin membrane wrapped around it, separating it from the fleshy fruit. This membrane is another spice, mace. Although both spices come from the same tree, they are different, and as far as we are concerned, should not be used interchangeable as some writers suggest. Their flavours are different, as nutmeg is much stronger than the more delicate mace.
It comes from the Malaccan Islands originally, and is now grown in other countries including Singapore, India and the West Indies. It took some years for it to spread from the Spice Islands, as the Malaccans were called, as the Dutch kept firm control of the spices that made them wealthy.
Pliny the Elder, writing in the first century AD wrote of a tree that bore two types of spice, and it is thought that he was referring to the nutmeg tree. We know that Arab traders took nutmeg to Constantinople in the 6th century and that in Medieval Europe, the cost of ½ kilo of nutmeg was the equivalent of the cost of a cow or three sheep. Geoffrey Chaucer mentions nutmeg in ‘The Canterbury Tales’ in the Tale of Sir Thopas; ’And nutmeg for to put in ale, All whether it be fresh or stale…’
Pagans use nutmeg as a symbol of luck, money, health and fidelity.
In 18th century Europe, nutmeg was an expensive commodity, and the fashionable people of the time used to carry their own nutmeg graters around with them if they were dining out. They became fashion accessories, some made into pendants and these antique nutmeg graters are now very valuable.
Historically nutmeg has been used to alleviate diarrhea, improve appetite and digestion, and to help sufferers of gout and arthritis.
While doing the research on this spice, I discovered that it is not as well known in Pakistan as mace, and quite a few people I spoke to didn’t know what it was, even when they saw photographs of it. (There weren’t any nutmegs in the local spice shop either.) However, it is used in traditional Mughal recipes, but it is a banned substance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia where it is classed as a drug, because of its hallucinogenic effects.
There is some debate in Islam as to whether or not nutmeg is halal or haram, but we believe that as long as it’s used as a spice, then it is halal. If, however it’s used as a drug, then it would be considered haram, as it can be harmful and induce vomiting when taken in large quantities. There is a general health warning that accompanies the use of nutmeg, and that is that you shouldn’t use it in cooking if you are pregnant.
If you are not used to nutmeg, then it would be better for you to use just a little of it until you become accustomed to the taste. The recommended amount for recipes is 1/8 of a teaspoon only.
You can use nutmeg in rice puddings, and cheesecakes as well as in sauces and savoury dishes. Personally, we wouldn’t use mace in sweet dishes, only in savoury ones. There is a garam masala recipe that includes mace, for example.
Try our recipe below, using nutmeg in a side dish which can be served with boiled potatoes as an accompaniment to meat, or as part of a vegetarian meal.




SPINACH WITH NUTMEG
Ingredients
750 gr fresh spinach, washed, dried and trimmed
50 gr butter or olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
1/8th tsp grated nutmeg
125 gr natural yoghurt
1 bunch spring onions
200 gr peas, shelled
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Method
Cook the peas with a sprig of mint added to the water. Refresh with cold water, drain and reserve.
Chop the spring onions. Heat the oils or butter and sesame oil and lightly fry the onions, then add the spinach and cook until it wilts. Stir in the yoghurt, and cooked peas and heat through for 5 mins, trying not to let the yoghurt boil.
Serve as suggested above.
This has Taste and is a Treat.
MACE
Mace has the same history as nutmeg, coming as it does from the same fruit. However there is no controversy surrounding this spice, and it is more expensive than nutmegs. This is because a pile of nutmegs, weighing 100 pounds, only produces 1 pound of mace.
One Dutch governor of the Malaccan Islands ordered that more mace trees should be planted and less nutmeg tree; that just goes to show how much HE knew about spice production.
In Pakistan, mace is very expensive as compared to other spices, and you can buy it by the blade for special occasions. The lower paid and the underclass cannot afford it
It has been used through the centuries to preserve meat, or to mask the smell of rancid meats.
You only need about an inch of a blade for cooking, and we think that it goes best in white sauces, so feel free to add a whole blade, or half a blade to our Parsley Sauce recipe.
Below is a recipe for mace in garam masala.


UP MARKET GARAM MASALA
Ingredients
2 or 3 black cardamom pods, depending on size
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tbsp coriander seeds
½ tbsp caraway seeds
½ tbsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp whole cloves
2 inch piece of cinnamon stick, broken into smaller pieces
¼ of a whole nutmeg, grated
1 blade of mace
1 bay leaf, crushed
a pinch of saffron threads
1 heaped tbsp freshly ground ginger

Method
Dry fry the cardamom pods until they plump up over a medium heat. When cool to touch, take out the seeds and put them in a bowl. Discard the pods.
Dry fry the coriander seeds, caraway seeds, black peppercorns, cloves and pieces of cinnamon. Stir for a few mins, and then transfer to the bowl with the cardamom seeds.
Reduce the heat to low, and gently fry the saffron, nutmeg, bay leaf and mace. When the leaves start to get crisp, remove from the heat and transfer to the bowl with the other spices.
While still warm mix all the spices together well and grind to a powder. Cool completely, then store in an airtight jar where the mixture will remain fresh for up to 3 months. Alternatively, freeze the garam masala and it will keep for 6 months.
Use with meats and in sauces.
This has Taste and is a Treat.

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